Like someone who had endured a premonition prior to a life-changing event, Mason Crane felt an uneasy familiarity at almost every milestone step that led him to becoming England’s 683rd Test cricketer on Thursday.
The practice nets at the SCG were the ones in which he had wheeled away in the days before he played his sole Sheffield Shield match as an itinerant member of New South Wales’ team last summer, although his training kit this week carried a far deeper shade of blue.
The visitors’ changerooms in which he housed his gear and watched his team bat throughout the opening day of the fifth Magellan Ashes Test was much like the home team’s on the far side of the Members Pavilion, but dissimilar enough to let him know he was no more in the famous ground’s true inner sanctum.
And when his time came to enter the Test match as a competitor – on the stroke of midday on a gloriously sunny Sydney summer’s Friday – the rival bowler awaiting him at the top of his mark was a teammate from that game at the same venue 10 months ago.
If the 20-year-old required a sharp slap to wake from his somnambulant haze that he’d indeed been there before, it came when that former comrade turned counterpart Pat Cummins fired a fast, short ball at Crane’s upper body that the debutant unintentionally squirted behind square leg for his maiden Test run.
Crane knew from his sojourn in Sydney’s grade ranks last summer that led to his one-off Shield appearance for the Blues that he was surely in Oz, but Cummins’ welcome reminded him immediately he wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Despite being volunteered to pad up as England’s nightwatchman the previous evening, batting is not the skill for which Crane was given his Test cap and it was closer to 2pm when he took the ball in circumstances far more daunting than when he tackled South Australia in the middle of the SCG last March.
As the young leggie, in his 30th first-class appearance and nursing a bowling average of a scarcely daunting 44, tossed a few warm-up deliveries and chatted with skipper Joe Root about his field placings, Usman Khawaja (29 Tests, batting average around 44) waited at the other end.
Khawaja has been known to have his issues facing spin bowling at Test level, but when Crane’s first delivery arrived – dragged nervously into the Sydney pitch from where it sat up like a practice ball dangling from a backyard clothes line – he smacked it towards the mid-wicket boundary.
With the same lack of cordiality Cummins had shown when Crane began his Test tenure with the bat.
The next delivery was a ripping leg break that pitched outside leg stump and spun so much further that keeper Jonny Bairstow almost trampled the close-in on-side fielder in his scramble to reel it in.
But it was towards the end of his second over, by which time he’d dragged down a couple more and sent one so far down leg side Bairstow could do nothing but concede a bye, that Crane began to feel at ease, if not quite back at home.
“I think about 10 or 11 balls in I felt like I had settled down, then I was just focusing on the battle with the batter,” he recounted at day’s end, which he finished 0-58 from 17 overs with Australia 2-193 and 153 in arrears.
“I think that first 10 balls I was full of excitement and emotions were everywhere, but then once I calmed down I thought ‘just get in the battle’.
“I was actually a little bit nervous, but also really excited and I had great fun out there and I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that England produces champion Test wrist spinners about as often as Steve Smith gets out, Crane’s mentor during his rise to international ranks has been ex-Australia leggie Stuart MacGill.
The pair worked together in Brisbane before the first Test of the summer, and then again at the SCG in the days leading into Crane’s debut at the same ground that the greatest-ever leg spinner – MacGill’s contemporary Shane Warne – played his first Test as a chubby youngster in 1992.
A match in which Warne pocketed 1-150 and gave no indication of the game-changing superstar he was to become.
“I’m hoping for slightly better figures (than Warne on debut), but at the end of the day that’s the way it goes isn’t it?” Crane reflected on further connections with Australia.
“He turned into a great bowler and I’m sure it was character building for him.”
Warne was watching from his retirement eyrie in the Channel Nine commentary box during Crane’s initial spell.
The game’s most successful leggie praised the speed and flight with which Crane bowled, noting that in this era of limited-overs cricket where spinners must reduce runs to earn a regular game the tendency is to fire the ball into the pitch at pace and sacrifice spin in the process.
Warne also observed that perhaps Crane cradles the ball too deeply within his palm and, should he release it further into his fingers, he might gain additional purchase and impart that fizzing level of spin for which Warne himself was renowned.
Crane might not have claimed a maiden Test wicket, but he can claim to have found the edge of Smith’s bat a couple of times which – in the current climate – is a fair substitute.
He did, however, win plaudits from other close observers of the game who see a brighter future than the most recent England wrist spinner to debut in an Ashes Test at the SCG – Scott Borthwick, who finished the corresponding match four years ago with tidy match figures of 4-82.
And has never again played for his country.
There were a few moments today when Crane seemed to have been spooked by the occasion.
Half a dozen time he reached the bowling crease only to hang on to the ball, and then look quizzically at the crease line as if he was struggling in the dry conditions to gain a proper foothold.
But he revealed at day’s end that, rather like Smith with his array of bating idiosyncracies, that if he feels something is awry in those few strides to the wicket he will abort rather than risk sending down an embarrassment.
“If something doesn’t feel quite right when I’m running in, or the ball doesn’t feel quite right or one of those steps I take something doesn’t feel quite right I try and stop myself rather than bowl a ball I know wouldn’t be as good as I can give," Crane said.
Ex-Test batter Michael Hussey told Optus Sports ‘Stumps’ program: “I liked him, I thought he bowled well, looked like a nervous start first couple of balls but after that he settled into his work quite well.
“For such a young leg-spinner to have good control is refreshing.
“Normally with a young leg-spinner you're going to get a few half-trackers or a few full tosses but his control was excellent.”
Former Australia opener Chris Rogers went further and predicted that Crane would become a key player in this Test with hot weather forecast for Sydney over the weekend, leading the pitch to potentially crack come days four and five.
“He'll be a factor,” Rogers said on Stumps.
“He even got a few to really turn today and at the back end of the game you'd expect there to be even more spin.
“One of the challenges for him because he's still quite young, still quite lean and light is how he's going to go when he's got 30 overs under his belt.
“That's going to be a tough challenge for him because he puts so much energy into his action, he bounds in.
“But you've got to like what you saw, I think he gave England some energy.”
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Match drawn. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Scorecard
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21